Mr. Lif: Emergency Rations EP

Mr. Lif: Emergency Rations EP

When El-P left Rawkus Records, he seemed to take the company's mojo with him, because over the course of a few releases, the producer's Definitive Jux label has left an indelible imprint on hip-hop. Its winning streak continues with a new album and EP, on which Mr. Lif, a Boston MC, condenses an entire career's worth of ambition and conceptual ingenuity. A concept EP documenting Lif's mysterious disappearance, Emergency Rations has a raw, unfinished quality that more than lives up to the urgency of its title. A solid blast of social consciousness, the disc finds Lif rapping about societal ills ranging from gender socialization to the vapid state of pop culture to the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. Lif and Edan rock retro flows while attacking President Bush on "Get Wise '91," but the EP's strongest track is the haunting "Phantom," which, in a typical bit of perversity, maps out the potent central metaphor of I Phantom. A concept album addressing the maelstrom of modern life through the story of an average man whose existence is largely determined by forces outside his control, I Phantom was mostly produced by El-P. Appropriately, the disc cross-pollinates his icy B-boy futurism with Lif's nasal-everyman flow, to powerful effect. Here, Lif tires of the straight and narrow, attempts an armed robbery, is cut down and resurrected by the beat, engages in a rap battle with a replica of himself, wakes up to find it was all a dream, goes to work, and fantasizes about killing his boss. That's just the first four songs; then the album gets really audacious and ambitious. After vividly mapping out the travails of the common man, Lif switches gears on the disc's last two tracks, bringing about a global apocalypse on "Earthcrusher" and, joined by El-P and Jean Grae, contemplating the void with wit and poignancy on "Post Mortem." With I Phantom, Lif creates a funny, sad, profound world, populates it with memorable characters, destroys it, and ponders the meaning of it all. It'll be fascinating to see what happens next.

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